Please note: This is a description of a typical trial. Due to the real-world competition style of NACSW Trials, your experience may differ based on the location and the variables affecting the trial that day.
If you are ready to compete in your first NACSW Trial, then it means that you and your dog have put in months of hard work, including training on all four elements of competition, and that you have passed the required Odor Recognition Test (ORT). Your first trial experience will be exciting, suspenseful, and exhausting, and you will likely encounter unexpected challenges throughout the day, so a thorough understanding of what a trial is like will help you and your dog face the challenges and be proud of your trial performance.
Most NACSW Trials are an all day event (Element Specialty trials may be half day), so you should plan to keep your dog safe and comfortable. Many handlers come equipped with shade cloths or “easy-up” canopies to keep their cars cool for their dogs’ comfort. Especially in warm weather, these items, as well as fans, sunscreen for handlers, snacks, water and perhaps wet towels to cool their dogs with all come in handy. Most trials will dictate that you crate your dog in your car between runs, although at some trials you may find a crating area indoors, or in a shaded outdoor area. It is preferable to crate train your dog; however, if you decide to allow your dog to stay loose in your car, then perhaps a friend can accompany you to the trial to help keep your dog inside the car, and allow for adequate ventilation while you are at the check in, walk through and awards ceremony. You may also opt to tether your dog in the vehicle or use window barriers. We want to keep every dog safe at a trial. X-pens are not recommended and need to be covered if they are used, as there is a security risk if your dog should escape or another dog should enter your X-pen. Many of our trials are adjacent to busy roads, and a dog may be injured if it gets loose.
What to expect when you arrive on the trial grounds:
• Be sure you have read and are familiar with the current version of trial rules & regulations.
• Park in designated areas. Your trial coordinator will let you know where to park.
• Potty your dog in designated areas only, and dispose of waste. Please be respectful of the facility.
• Please keep your dog on leash. Be mindful of keeping distance between your dog and other participants’ dogs. No meet and greets please.
• Give dogs wearing red bandanas extra space whenever possible. NACSW Trials are unique in that reactive dogs are able to participate*. “Reactive” means that a dog may be uncomfortable with other dogs in close proximity. Location permitting, there will be a separate parking area for handlers with reactive dogs. A reactive dog potty area will be assigned if space is available. These areas may be adjacent to the regular parking and potty areas, and other dogs and handlers will be in proximity. Even though we take care to keep dogs at least 8 feet apart, we all have to navigate and share the trial facility.
Check-in at registration table, without your dog.
• Find out the running order and any group assignments – this may mean your group runs the elements in a particular order. There will usually be a white board, or a list close to the registration area.
• Get a red bandana if you have a reactive dog. You may tie the bandana around your dog’s neck, or wear the bandana tied on your arm. It must be displayed so that other handlers know to keep their distance from your dog.
• Find out the time and location of handler briefing.
* Not all trial locations may be suitable for reactive dogs. The real-world nature of NACSW Trials presents a number of variables that may put reactive dogs in stressful situations. Always make decisions in the best interest of your dog when deciding whether to enter a trial or to continue competing in a trial.
Attend Handler Briefing.
The handler briefing and walkthrough will take approximately 45 minutes to an hour. During this time, handlers will have an opportunity to see the element search areas, and to understand the flow and logistics of the trial site. Since safety for the dogs is primary, we want all the competitors to view the search areas with an eye for safety concerns for their dogs. Search times, the number of hides for each element search area (if applicable), and entrance and exit routes to and from the search areas will also be discussed as part of the walkthrough. The briefing will conclude with a question and answer period, as well as a review of basic trial etiquette. There may also be an announcement from the trial certifying official to alert competitors to any rule adjustments necessitated by unexpected changes to the trial location and/or adverse weather conditions.
Trial Begins, first half is usually 2-3 hours long.
• Know the running order.
• When the dog before you has gone to the search area, a steward will call for you to be ready or “on deck.” Do not bring your dog “on deck” before you are called, we want to minimize socializing between dogs, only one dog should be waiting at a time. Make sure you give yourself some time to potty your dog before you are called “on deck.” If there are warm up boxes available, you can also use this time to give your dog a chance to search and be rewarded. Always make sure the area for the warm up boxes is clear of other dogs before you approach.
• You will likely complete two search elements before the lunch break at a NW1 trial. They may happen in succession, or you may return your dog to your crating area or car between elements, depending on logistics of the trial grounds.
• Be prepared to wait between elements. While you are waiting for the team ahead of you to clear the element area, you may be sequestered for a time. Make good use of this time to keep your dog in his best state of mind, be that excited or calm.
• When you have completed your element, you will be ushered by the steward on to the next element station, or if you are done, you will be shown how to exit out of the search area.
Lunch Break, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
There is a midday break that will allow the officials and volunteers to take a rest and prepare for the remainder of the trial. The judges in particular need a rest from the intense mental concentration required to watch and evaluate the searches of each dog and handler team. This time is also used to set up other locations, hides, or do clean up. Take advantage of this break to walk your dog in the designated area, and to attend to any of his other needs. Many trial participants use this time to meet new handlers, and make new friends. Some participants like to “tailgate,” adding to the fun and culture of K9 Nose Work. Note: The break may happen at different times for each search area. There is not necessarily a complete stoppage of the trial during this time. Also note that due to line of sight issues, it is frequently not possible for competitors to leave the site during this time.
Trial Resumes, second half is usually 2-3 hours.
• Know your place in the running order.
• Complete your remaining elements.
• Scores and score sheets are not available until all competitors have completed the trial, and the volunteers in the scoring room have finished tabulating and verifying scores.
Judges Debriefing and Awards Ceremony.
At the end of the trial, there is an assembly where the judges will provide an overview of their observations, answer questions, and discuss the trial hides and the challenges they posed on this particular day. Ribbons are awarded for titles, overall placement, and individual element placement. Even if your dog does not title, he can still earn placement awards. Judges’ certificates, and special acknowledgements are presented as well.
Now you have a better understanding of what an NACSW Trial is like - but you may still want to see one in person. Signing up as a trial volunteer will allow you to see how a typical trial unfolds. When you decide to enter your first trial, remember that the goal is always for your dog to have fun. No matter what the outcome of the competition, you and your dog will have gained valuable experience that will have a positive effect on your K9 Nose Work journey.